Hundred Highways Tour #51 – 53: US 287, US 12, MT 284 to Bedrock Books

beaudin_287sm
North on 287 with wheat and alfalfa running like ponies across the rolling expanse bound for the mountains on every horizon. It’s one of those late-summer days that poets keep trying to capture in words, but never do. It’s one of those big sky days that gives a state its nickname. I almost regret that I have a reading to get to: it would be fantastic to just keep driving, letting the roads unroll where ever they wish, only stopping for gas in towns I’ve never heard of.

But Helena pulls me in just in time to check into my room and head over to Bill Borneman’s house for a fantastic dinner of chicken saltimbocca and malbec in the enchanted garden of a backyard with miniature chickens roaming the underbrush and hummingbirds making the air vibrate with life.

Bill is the owner of Bedrock Books, where my reading is being held. But first, the writer and musician Aaron Parrett and I swing by his place to pick up a banjo and have a look at his book collection. We geek out on James Joyce for awhile, which isn’t something you can do with most banjo-players. Only the best of them.

The reading at Bedrock is like a house concert: a comfy living room full of new friends, surrounded by fantastic books. Good beer in the fridge and afterwards, a gathering in the backyard with night sounds, drunk neighbors and good stories passed around the circle.

And I think, oh yeah, that’s why I do this. Why I drive long distances to sell a few books. It’s these moments of fantastic people and places that open themselves to an out-of-town poet and say, “hey, let me tell you a story.”

[More reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hallelujah Revisited

I remember vividly the first time I heard Leonard Cohen. It was in my room at Squatemala, an anarchist compound of Victorian mansions and carriage houses built by long-dead lumber barons. Over the decades, it had gone feral with broken windows, collapsing walls, leaking roofs and beautiful ghosts roaming the creaking hallways. The overgrown yard, a full-city-block, was hidden by a stockade fence and a row of garage workshops. We added a large wall tent, cultivated wild edibles and gathered nightly around a bonfire for song and smoke, drink and dance.

I had a room in the “Big House,” with moonlight that slipped through leaded glass and a museum of frayed and faded antique furniture.

A very dear friend, a lover then, was surprised and excited that I’d never heard of Cohen. She played “Suzanne” and we lay there, silenced. As a love song, it was instantly among the best I’d heard. Up there with Coltrane’s “Naima” and “San Diego Serenade” by Tom Waits. But then there came this verse:

And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

and I knew I was listening to a poet. I think a poet is someone who says something utterly new that is so true, so authentic to the music of the universe, that the moment you hear the words they seem to have always existed—part of the bedrock, rooted in our pre-conscious myth. Academics, theologians and philosophers could spend years analyzing and explicating these lines. As humans, though, we feel their meaning in an instant.

The song ended, and we played it again. And then we didn’t play it, and it kept playing within.

Sometime later, our friend, the insanely talented artist and musician Jim Perkins started playing a weekly gig at the Hamilton St. Pub, and during his set would play Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” There was a group of us, based around Squatemala and around the Red Eye Coffeehouse—the greatest coffee spot to ever exist—that were there every week. (Of course, you, I hope, have the same independent, quirky designation in your home town—the greatest coffeehouse exists all over the world, and it never sports a green mermaid in its logo.)

The night was always fantastic. Love and camaraderie and silliness and tiny dancers and enough booze to stun a rhinoceros. But then, near the end of the night, Perkins would give in to our screaming request and play “our song.”

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?

And suddenly all of us were on the dance floor, in one big hugging circle, signing as if our lives depended on it. We loved each other, we loved the perfection of the song, we even loved that damn curmudgeon Perkins who was humoring us, and we loved the moment that we pretended would last forever.

But it didn’t.

We moved on. We moved away. Some of us loved each other too much and don’t anymore. Some of us sometimes lay awake remembering those days when something magical and beautiful took hold of us, brought us together and gave us a memory that no one on the outside will ever understand.

But all of us still love Leonard Cohen for giving the us his words, his voice and his pain. And I still love all those people, even the ones I pretend I don’t.

Posted in music review, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hundred Highways Tour #49, 50: M-13, M-84 to Bemo’s Bar

Sitting with the Northwoods Improvisors (Mike Johnston on bass)

Sitting in with the Northwoods Improvisers (Mike Johnston on bass)

I didn’t plan it this way and I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but it’s perfectly fitting that I completed the first half of the Hundred Highways Tour in my birthplace of Bay City, Michigan. My show would have only taken me on my 49th highway, but I missed my turn (yes, in the town where I grew up), and ended up coming through the backdoor of M-84 to end up at Bemo’s, my favorite Bay City bar (now that the Old Bar is long gone).

The show was fantastic thanks in large part to the amazing crowd of family and friends who came out for it. Also, having my brother/comrade Todd Berner open for me was perfect. He’s a hell of a songwriter and sounded great. Later, his set with Alyssa Diaz held the room in awe.

The absolute highlight of the evening (or maybe the entire tour so far) was sitting in during Northwoods Improvisors’ set. This trio of mind and soul-bending artists: Mike Gilmore (vibraphones, marimba, cheng, guitar, saz, percussion), Mike Johnston (bass, wood flutes, percussion) and Nick Ashton (drums, percussion), inspire me like no other living musicians do. It was an honor to be able to introduce their music to some new people, and then to share a new poem while they played an Alice Coltrane piece — wow!
The poem is from a new project I hope to record called From Coltrane to Coal Train: An Eco-Jazz Suite. Here’s the piece we debuted:

Communion

“All a musician can do
is to get closer to the sources of nature,
and so feel that he is in communion
with the natural laws.”
– John Coltrane
spoke these words, 1962
the same year a German coal mine explodes
killing 299 and John Glenn orbits the earth
dancing through “fireflies” of ice
the Centralia coal mine fire begins to burn
decimating two towns & likely to continue
burning for 250 more years and Bob Dylan
first sings “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”
& 50 years later
I sit outside this bar
in a brief respite between coal trains
listening to the sparrows
discuss a coming storm
the willow across the road
dances out the same message
the aspens of the courtyard
sigh their thirst,
soon to be slated

I’d like to go in for another beer
But the earth’s music is too compelling

All any of us can do
(as the first rain drops fall)
is to get closer to the sources of nature
(as the birds fall silent)
& so feel we are in communion
w/ the natural laws
(even though what I first take for thunder
is instead the next train
rounding the bend)

[More reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here]

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hundred Highways Tour #45 – 48: M-25, I-75, I-23, M-14 to Bookbound

When I was in college at a small school in a mid-Michigan cornfield, my best friend was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was the poor kid who wanted to transfer there, but knew I could never afford it. It was my Christminster (if that’s not too obscure (hint-hint) of a reference).

Ann Arbor was where I got hipped to social and political activism in the form of the anti-apartheid movement, to the overwhelming amount of what there was to possibly learn in the form of the endless stacks at the graduate library, to the wonders of mind-expanding substances in the form of a little baggie of Pinconning Paralyzer in Mary Markley Hall. It was also where I discovered and fell in love with independent bookstores.

Places like Shaman Drum, West Side Bookshop, Wooden Spoon Books, Crazy Wisdom, David’s Books, and the original Borders — before they sold to K-Mart and the corporate suits did what they always do to a cultural institution. (Sadly, the stores I just listed that don’t have links are no longer with us).

On this visit, nearly 30 years after those days, I had the great pleasure to read at a new Ann Arbor bookstore, Bookbound. The owner’s Peter and Megan Blackshear were fantastically welcoming and friendly. The crowd was small, but a chance to reunite with some great old friends – one of whom, Monica Rico, was one of the Saginista poets of the Red Eye poetry scene back in Saginaw (read her work!), another was my friend Kevin from the pow-wow circuit days who was with me at the beginning and end of several of the road trips in Vagabond Song.

After the reading, there were drinks and more drinks with great friends (Good Ol’ Nats), new and old. The next day, I visited some of the other bookstores in town and kicked around the art fair, where I bought a new hat. Just in time to wear for my next reading, that night at Bemo’s Bar in Bay City (the subject of the next report from the Hundred Highways Tour).

newhat

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hundred Highways Tour #43, #44: I-90 & US 2 to the GetLit! Festival

DSCN1667A short jump from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane for the GetLit! Fest. Too much free wine, too nice of a hotel and a fantastic downtown/park. Mostly I walked around being surprised by how nice of a city this is. I’d only visited once before, and that was just to fill a U-Haul truck with boxes of my cousin Doug Peacock‘s book, Walking It Off. The press that published it was getting the axe, so we bought up all their stock. I was in town only long enough to load up.

So it was great to be able to spend a few days and realize how much this city has going on. After my reading at the festival, sharing a stage with a fantastic memoirist, Julie Riddle, who’s book The Solace of Stones is a powerfully honest look at childhood, wilderness and the endless paradox of Montana, someone asked me if I’d been to the waterfall yet. I had seen signs for it in the park and for some reason pictured a small run of whitewater cascading over rocks, maybe a couple dozens yards worth of drop — pretty, but not a huge priority.

Why that was my assumption, I have no idea. I’d forgotten the importance of remaining open to everything while on the road (0r anywhere for that matter). But, if someone says, “you should go see this,” it’s important to remember the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

DSCN1697[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hundred Highways Tour #38 – 42: US 93, MT 200, MT Secondary 471, NF 9, I-90 to The Well-Read Moose

photo by Lisa Beaudin

photo by Lisa Beaudin

Since my reading the night before at Fact & Fiction was followed by some serious bar-hopping and it being pointed out to me that at midnight, it officially became my birthday, we ended up get a late start to head to Coeur d’Alene for a gig at The Well-Read Moose. But we still were able to take back roads. Cutting north on 93 passing near the Garden of One-thousand Buddhas at Arlee and passing numerous road signs in Salish and Kootenai languages. The languages use characters and symbols far beyond my word processing skills, but their English translations are fantastic: “Place Where You Surround Something” and “Little Valley Behind Hills.”

After a road drink in Thompson Falls, we crossed a mountain pass that threw us back into winter. The Midwesterner in me still has trouble fathoming severe snow and ice conditions in April, but we got lucky and were able to make it through, dropping into Idaho, and eventually into “Heart of the Awl.” Rather than try to tell you about the drive, here’s my birthday poem for this year that I finished a day later in a Spokane bar:

Birthday Poem, 2016

Let’s begin the day
listening to Brahms in a Missoula hotel room
then the drive
along the spring roiling of the Flathead River
with tongues of fog lolling up from mouths of fir trees
to taste the sky

Let’s stop at a bar in Thompson Falls
empty but for a daytime card game
of somebodies’ grandmothers
to have a pint & find out if the pass is open–
snow & rain & elk & a wild turkey
at the roadside like a desolate hitchhiker–
but drivable if we take it slow

& the confusion of west-flowing rivers
in place of my habitual eastbound ones

Yesterday, a coyote on the median
testing the limits of mortality
& the physics of steel,
Tomorrow, a dark corner bar in Spokane
with bad music & too many TVs
But today,
as soaring as the Brahms
as delicate as the fog,
to be here with the woman I love
with bellies full of sushi
& the lights of Coeur d’Alene seeping
through the blinds &
painting our bodies in joy

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dying City

Dying City by Christopher Shinn
Caldera Theatre Company, 2016
Directed and designed by Marc Beaudin

Click image for full photo gallery.

Click image for full photo gallery.

Director’s Note from the program:

For us at the CTC, theatre as an artform doesn’t happen on the stage or in the actors’ imaginations. Rather it exists in the moment of communication between us and you. In the connection between actor and audience – the two coming together to create the reality of a moment, art happens. Television has viewers, sports events have spectators, but the theatre has participants. By choosing to accept our offer to come together in a certain place and time, to add your imaginations, memories, emotions and dreams to the cauldron, together we brew something magical, rare and beautiful: Truth.

In this play, the truth of these characters’ lives is evasive. It flashes in unexpected places, it fails to reside where we expect it to, it slips from our grasp when we most think we have hold of it. Mostly, it swims deep below the surface of what is spoken.

Kelly’s truth collides with that of Peter, her deceased husband’s twin. In flashback scenes, it’s Kelly and Craig’s truths that collide. All these truths are at odds with those of unseen (but heavily felt) parents, lovers, co-workers and patients – as well as the great (un)truth of the Iraq War.

But there is another truth at play here: the truth of being fully aware, in the moment. That’s what we seek, with your help, to create. What we find in that moment might be painful, it might be funny or difficult or confusing or upsetting or inspiring – but this is why we have theatre. To ask questions that may confound us, to explore the darkness because, paradoxically, that’s where the light is to be found. As Socrates reminds us, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Thank you for joining in our examination and for making the life of this moment worth the living.

A note on the set design:

The world of these characters, defined by the floor rug and the lighting, hovers within the void. Beyond Kelly’s apartment is darkness: the dark unknown of war, failed love, the past, the future – the door to the outside world. Memories, hopes and fears emerge from the void and return to it. Kelly and Peter are surrounded by it, compelled by it, but powerless against it. Craig is both of it and not of it. The only thing on the set that rests in the void but connects into the apartment is the television – offering a relationship to the world beyond the void. But is it a true offer, or just another lie? Is it connection or anethesia?

Posted in Directing, Set Design | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hundred Highways Tour #36, 37: I-90 & U.S. 12 to Fact and Fiction Books

Photo by Lisa Beaudin

We planned on taking back roads, maybe 141 to 200 so we could pass through Avon and Ovando, or maybe 1 to 38 to 93 to find road drinks in Porters Corner or Victor. But by the time we got out the door, we had just enough time to race on the interstate unfreeway, straight to our hotel in Missoula, a block away from the reading at Fact & Fiction.

We arrived with a few minutes to spare: enough to run across the street to grab two bottles of wine to share with the small but friendly crowd. One of the wines was named “Duct Tape” and tasted as bad as it sounds, but I had to get it anyway in honor of the line from my poem “M-46, October”:

Clyde’s old diesel rolls to a wary stop
& I hop from the cab
onto a protest of gravel
beneath my duct-taped boots

The store is a good reminder of how fantastic and vital our local, independent bookshops are. The shelves are packed with books that go much deeper than the generic quick reads of box stores or malls. “Local author” tags protrude from everywhere. Barbara and Mara are more than welcoming and, as with indie shops across the country, I feel at home. All those local author signs represent the important bond between writers and bookstores; both help make a town vibrant, both need each other to thrive. As a writer, I can’t say enough about booksellers who support writers. As a bookseller, I can’t say enough about the authors who support my store, Elk River Books.

Photo by Nathan Snow

Photo by Nathan Snow

We finished the night at a downtown bar, ringing in my birthday with $6 pitchers of PBR and an unbelievably delicious shot of Jameson compliments of my stepson and his friends who took turns rocking the karaoke machine and commanding the dance floor. I successfully avoided the former, but have a vague memory of visiting the latter.

In the morning, or rather afternoon, I packed by road case and we headed north.

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

 

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Birthday Poem 2016

Birthday Poem, 2016

Let’s begin the day
listening to Brahms in a Missoula hotel room
then the drive
along the spring roiling of the Flathead River
with tongues of fog lolling up from mouths of fir trees
to taste the sky

Let’s stop at a bar in Thompson Falls
empty but for a daytime card game
of somebodies’ grandmothers
to have a pint & find out if the pass is open–
snow & rain & elk & a wild turkey
at the roadside like a desolate hitchhiker–
but drivable if we take it slow

& the confusion of west-flowing rivers
in place of my habitual eastbound ones

Yesterday, a coyote on the median
testing the limits of mortality
& the physics of steel,
Tomorrow, a dark corner bar in Spokane
with bad music & too many TVs
But today,
as soaring as the Brahms
as delicate as the fog,
to be here with the woman I love
with bellies full of sushi
& the lights of Coeur d’Alene seeping
through the blinds &
painting our bodies in joy

–Marc Beaudin, 14 April 2016

Posted in poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hundred Highways Tour #26 – 35: I-90, MT 84, U.S. 191, U.S. 20, I-15, MT 41, MT 287, MT 55 & MT 2 to King’s English Bookshop

2016-03-08 06.46.21

On the return trip (photo by Lisa Beaudin)

Once again rolling alongside the Gallatin River and skirting the western edge of Yellowstone, back to Salt Lake. This time it’s for a reading at the King’s English Bookshop.

This is one of the great independent bookstores that you can wander and browse, losing hours (and sometimes getting physically lost as well). Room after room of great books that make you wish you had extra lifetimes just for reading.

2016-03-07 02.16.59
This was my third visit to Salt Lake City, but my first to the actual lake. There’s something quietly unsettling about a lake with no fish. Other than brine shrimp and a few other tiny critters, nothing lives in these waters, nothing else can survive. Just knowing that makes standing at its shore disorienting and trepidatious. It’s stunningly beautiful, but it’s a otherworldly beauty — lunar, alien.

And deadly.

As climate change dries the surrounding land and a growing population diverts more and more water otherwise destined for the it, the lake is disappearing before our eyes. As it turns to dust, its high levels of trapped mercury blow into the city, poisoning the people who are taking the water that, had it been allowed to replenish the lake, would have prevented the poison dust from developing. The same mercury is moving up the food chain, from brine shrimp to ducks to the hunter feeding his family. Strands of the web. It’s impossible to cut one strand without feeling the vibrations throughout the entire, interwoven structure. Or as Barry Commoner says, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

2016-03-07 02.19.24

 

When the lake becomes dust
& the dust enters the rivers of our blood
no fish will swim through our bodies
no birds will fly through our dreams

[Read more reports from the Hundred Highways Tour here.]

Posted in Hundred Highways, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment